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Review: Kayaking with Lambs

October 20, 2023

bookcoverI have another book recommendation. This one will not keep you up until 3am, unless you get to page 161 and decide that you must read it all over again. As one does. Kayaking with Lambs is a collection of essays mostly pulled from Brian Miller’s richly authentic farm journal, A South Roane Agrarian, where the author and sybaritic farmer in residence deals out eloquent vignettes of living and working on an East Tennessee farm. Miller’s book takes these essays and organizes them into a Book of Hours, a Divine Office of farm life.

Matins opens with midnight and reverence and some of the more sweeping views of Winged Elm Farm. From “reasons why I farm” to the map of the territory rendered in palpable textures and scents. Sext brings observations, stark under the noontide sun, of suburban encroachment and necessary deaths. Compline, the closing office of the daily round, winds up with droll philosophy, self-deprecation for the human species.

But it is Terce, the middle morning office, that is my favorite. This is my time of day anyway. It is, as Miller calls it, the “sun office”, the time of rolled sleeves and sweat and accomplishment, such as it comes for tasks that never truly end. But in one of the earlier essays in this section, Brian perfectly sums up the hope in marginal peoples and places, those abandoned by the world of progress, who of necessity do for themselves. “It’s that abandonment that has preserved and nurtured self-reliance and partnership”, he says. These are people who will muddle together through all the messes because they’ve been doing that for decades. They are professional muddlers. They will carry right on muddling as progress falls apart. This should give us all hope. When we don’t know where to turn or what to do next, look to the Farm Kid and the neighbor who has an armful of salvaged metal bed slats to fix the bushhog. They’ll get us through.

Kayaking with Lambs will surely find a permanent home on the nightstand, with those elect books that can’t be put away, that should always be at hand. When the world is closing in, these are the stories that we will reach for in order to bring things back into perspective. “Farming is not a career. It is not a lifestyle. It is life.”

Eliza Daley

Eliza Daley is a fiction. She is the part of me that is confident and wise, knowledgable and skilled. She is the voice that wants to be heard in this old woman who more often prefers her solitary and silent hearth. She has all my experience — as mother, musician, geologist and logician; book-seller, business-woman, and home-maker; baker, gardener, and chief bottle-washer; historian, anthropologist, philosopher, and over it all, writer. But she has not lived, is not encumbered with all the mess and emotion, and therefore she has a wonderfully fresh perspective on my life. I rather like knowing her. I do think you will as well.